For the Twelve Days of Christmas, your friendly, neighborhood theater editor/drama critic, in the spirit of the season, offers this list of mostly serious wishes, one for each of the traditional dozen days that follow Dec. 25:
1. I wish Pioneer Theatre Company would dip more frequently into the local talent pool instead of consistently bringing actors in from the East and West coasts. They're excellent performers, I admit, but often there are local Equity actors who could do just as well, maybe even better. (Does anybody remember the good old days when just one or two big-name stars would be featured on the Lees Main Stage, and the rest of the cast would be students and local folks?)2. I also wish the University of Utah theater department would bring back its terrific Musical Theatre and Young People's Theatre programs. Both of them were among the best in the country just a couple of years ago, then disappeared. (YPT earned national acclaim and prestigious awards). We need them back.
3. I wish the Hale Center Theater, which has a well-earned reputation for top-quality family entertainment, would go one step further and implement an entirely reserved-seat policy. In this day and age of computerized ticketing, it can't be that difficult. (OK, I'll give a little - set aside three-fourths of the theater for reserved seats, and let others scramble for what's left.) I know one of the problems with reserved seating is that, sometimes, the ticket buyers don't show up - but that's their problem, if the theater just lets the seats go to someone else.
4. I wish the Promised Valley Playhouse would be privatized, allowing the excellent facilities to be used for more than just two open-to-the public productions a year. Then, maybe we'd see the full use of the best orchestra pit in town, instead of making do with pretaped or electronic music (or, worse yet, having a live orchestra stuck somewhere in a back room, with the sound fed into the auditorium). But playing fast and loose with "live" music isn't nearly as irritating as what some other companies in town do - inject little ad lib remarks into the scripts (like the ridiculous "savings and loan" joke in "The Miser," or the overused "pretty, great state" asides we've heard the past couple of years). "In" jokes and off-the-wall comments work OK in melodrama (see item No. 5), but are out of place in classic works by Molliere or Miller.
5. I wish all theatergoers in town shared Mike Todd's philosophy. Todd operates the Desert Star Playhouse. He makes a concerted effort to support as many of the other (even competing) performing arts groups in town - paying the going box office ticket prices and not expecting "freebies" just because they're colleagues. And, while we're on the subject of Desert Star Playhouse, I hope more folks will discover this wonderful little theater (on State Street in downtown Murray). It doesn't do Shakespeare or Brecht, but, like the Hales, it specializes in old-fashioned melodrama and family entertainment, along with pizza, ice cream and popcorn.
6. I wish more Wasatch Front residents would pry themselves away from their TV sets and discover some of the great theater and cultural activities there are in the area - such as the Broadway Stage, Salt Lake Acting Company, TheatreWorks West, Park City Performances and others. There's a broad range of live theater for a variety of tastes, from family plays and musicals to serious, issue-oriented drama.
7. I wish theatergoers would discover that patronizing the arts goes beyond just attending the plays and productions. Arts funding is being pared back on many levels, and donations - even if they're just a few dollars - are needed by your favorite companies. "In-kind" contributions such as old clothing, props or office equipment, also help defray production costs.
8. I know this sounds far-fetched, but I wish some of today's theater patrons would learn the basics of theater etiquette - especially that it's not nice to talk to your companion while others are trying to enjoy the show. This may be OK at home when you're watching TV (although, personally, I find this irritating, too), but conversation should be saved for intermission or after the show.
9. I wish some readers would understand that a theater critic's job is not to simply trash mediocre theater, but to act as a consumer advocate, helping theatergoers make educated decisions about whether or not even a good show is what they want to spend their time and money on. (And "good" isn't necessarily interchangeable with "wholesome." All too often there's a big - and very disappointing - difference.)
10. I wish the Theater League of Utah the best of luck in bringing top-quality Broadway touring shows to Salt Lake City. Ticket prices will be a little steeper than many local folks are accustomed to paying - but they're consistent with what you'd find in other major theater centers. ("Les Miserables" is one production that is well worth the wait - and price. It's a stirring, powerful piece of theater staged on an epic scale.)
11. I really wish I could make heads or tails out of City Rep's calendar. Their reason for scattering dates willy-nilly throughout the month is that they have to alternate Court Stage (main floor) and Jester Stage (upstairs) productions - but when the Utah Theatre was a moviehouse, it showed films upstairs and downstairs simultaneously without any problems.
12. Most of all, I wish I had the time and budget to see more of the great theater that's available in Logan, Cedar City, Provo, Ogden and elsewhere in the state. The University of Utah - especially since the Musical Theatre and Young People's Theatre programs went down the drain - doesn't have a corner on the best collegiate theater in the state. (And if the boss would throw in a week or two in New York, Chicago and maybe Seattle or Minneapolis, too, that would make me even happier.)